Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Summer II/Section 09/Wade Hampton Taylor

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Wade Hampton Taylor, referred to as Miles Thornton in the text for unknown reasons, was interviewed by John H. Abner and George Andrews in association with the Federal Writers' Project. The interview took place on January 23, 1939.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Wade Hampton Taylor (referred to as Miles Thornton in the Federal Writers Project Interview for unknown reasons) was born on July 24, 1883 in Memphis, Tennessee. At age six, Taylor began to attend school and continued until he was fifteen years old. At that point, he quit after completing the eighth grade, stating that “I could have had a better education, but I tired of school”.1 Taylor’s father was a physician, and Taylor intended to go to medical school to become a doctor like his father before him. In his teen years, Taylor would accompany his father on medical calls out into the country and believed that this was the best way to treat patients, claiming the more modern doctors to be “cruel” and incompetent.2 He began taking over for his father when his father was away at a medical conference in Philadelphia, and although he

Cotton farm after Dust Bowl era.

was very successful, Taylor simply lost interest in medicine and got into the cotton industry when his Uncle McSpadden offered him a warehouse job. He worked for his uncle for nearly ten years. He then partnered with McSpadden and formed his own cotton firm, Taylor and McSpadden, which lasted four years. Taylor then worked as a chief inspector of cotton in California for almost eight years, and later moved back to Memphis to work for his brother, W.I. Taylor, right before the Depression hit. Taylor then left as the company was failing and became an innkeeper in Beaumont, North Carolina in 1935 before conducting his interview for the Federal Writers Project on January 23, 1939, at the age of fifty-six. Taylor never married and never had any children.

Social, Political, and Cultural Issues[edit | edit source]

Lack of Sufficient Healthcare in the 19th Century[edit | edit source]

During the late 19th century, healthcare was extremely limited and selective. At the time, doctors would take medical calls through mail and travel to the patient’s home with whatever equipment or medicine they could carry. Doctors or physicians would then diagnose the patient, prescribe the patient with a particular medication, and fill that prescription at the patient’s home. Medicine was expensive at the time, and as stated by Sheingold, “healthcare in the U.S. was a jumble of voluntary, religious and charitable initiatives, such as relief for the elderly or the poverty stricken. The exception was for those who had money and could pay for medicine and care. It remained this way until the 20th century”.3 Even with the development of hospitals and pharmacies, inexperienced pharmacists would prescribe several different medications for patients. This cost a fortune, and oftentimes the medication would have no effect.4

Impact of the Great Depression on the Cotton Industry[edit | edit source]

Cotton was an extremely valuable and profitable industry as it had been the leading American export for the past 100 years. However, the stock market crash of 1929 and the depression that followed devastated the cotton industry and put many firms out of business. Cotton prices began to fall, and farmers in the south were failing to pay mortgages and losing their land. The ensuing Dust Bowl made matters worse, as over 2.5 million farmers abandoned their farms. Furthermore, in an attempt to remedy the situation, the government set a price floor for cotton at 20 cents per pound. Hagge explains the intervention, stating that “If the price for cotton fell below 20 cents per pound on the national market, the federal government pledged to buy the crop at that particular floor and would attempt to sell it in later years at a theoretically higher market price. However, this system of price guarantees led to overproduction, as other farmers planted cotton to receive the guaranteed payment of 20 cents per pound”.5 The overproduction led to even lower prices, and the cotton industry continued to plummet until New Deal policies introduced by President Roosevelt helped restore the economy.6

Schools and Education[edit | edit source]

Schools in the late 19th century were very inefficient and impractical. The common schoolhouse consisted of one room where children of all ages would gather to learn. Attendance was voluntary and varied from day to day depending on the weather and need for labor at home. There was a severe scarcity of books and paper in schools, so much memorization and oral drilling took place.7 Older boys who were needed in the fields during the planting and harvesting seasons would attend school

Schoolhouse in early 1900's

only during the winter term. Children were exposed to the same lessons many times due to the inconsistent attendance and schools were ungraded at the time, so there were no real incentives for students to study and learn.8 Developments weren’t made until the 20th century, when the U.S. received a plethora of immigrants from Europe. At this point, “Public education was also seen as a way to "Americanize" the vast number of immigrant children flooding into cities. Compulsory attendance laws were enacted to ensure that children from all classes received a basic, "common," education in elementary grades”.9 As the economy began to improve in the early 1900’s, more parents began sending their children to school so that they could acquire better jobs in the future.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ↑Abner, Cotton in the Blood
  2. ↑Ibid
  3. ↑Sheingold and Hahn, “The history of healthcare quality: The first 100 years 1860-1960.”
  4. ↑Institute of Medicine (US) Committee for the Study of the Future of Public Health. “A History of the Public Health System.”
  5. ↑Hagge, “The Decline and Fall of a Cotton Empire: Economic and Land-use Change in the Lower Mississippi River "delta" South, 1930-1970.”
  6. ↑Smiley, “Great Depression”
  7. ↑Library of Congress, “America at School”
  8. ↑Sauceman and Mays, “Oak Hill School Heritage Education Center: An1886 One-Room Schoolhouse Teacher's Resource and Curriculum Guide”
  9. ↑Ibid

Bibliography[edit | edit source]